2012 MLB Predictions: Philadelphia Phillies Season Preview

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2012 MLB Predictions: Philadelphia Phillies Season Preview
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After going out and putting together one of the best starting rotations in recent memory, the Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to win more games than any team in baseball last season.

They did that, winning a grand total of 102 games. After that deed was done, the Phillies were supposed to go out and win the World Series.

They didn't do that, losing to the eventual world champion St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

The Phillies made plenty of moves this offseason, but one thing that's clear today is that this team is not as strong on paper as last year's team was.

Here's an extended look at how the Phillies are shaping up heading into the 2012 season.

 

2011 Record: 102-60

Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): RHP Jonathan Papelbon (FA), LHP Raul Valdes (FA), RHP Brian Sanches (FA), OF Scott Podsednik (FA), SS Pete Orr (FA), LHP Pat Misch (FA), 3B Kevin Frandsen (FA), RHP Scott Elarton (FA), OF Laynce Nix (FA), RHP Dave Bush (FA), C Steven Lerud (FA), LHP David Purcey (FA), 3B Hector Luna (FA), OF Lou Montanez (FA), OF Jesus Morales (FA), LHP Jeremy Horst (from Cincinnati), OF Juan Pierre (FA), RHP Chad Qualls (FA), 1B Jim Thome (FA).

Key Departures: OF Ben Francisco (to Toronto), RHP Scott Mathieson (FA), SS Carlos Rivera (waivers), OF John Bowker (FA), SS Wilson Valdez (to Cincinnati), OF Raul Ibanez (FA), RHP Brad Lidge (FA), RHP Ryan Madson (FA), RHP Roy Oswalt (FA).

Projected Rotation (per official site)

  1. Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)
  2. Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40, 1.03)
  3. Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79, 0.99)
  4. Vance Worley (11-3, 3.01, 1.23)
  5. Joe Blanton (1-2, 5.01, 1.48)
  6. Kyle Kendrick (8-6, 3.22, 1.22)


Projected Starters

C: Carlos Ruiz (.283/.371/.383)

Harry How/Getty Images
Chase Utley

1B: Ryan Howard (.253/.346/.488)*

2B: Chase Utley (.259/.344/.438)**

3B: Placido Polanco (.277/.335/.339)

SS: Jimmy Rollins (.268/.338/.399)

LF: John Mayberry (.273/.341/.442)

CF: Shane Victorino (.279/.355/.491)

RF: Hunter Pence (.314/.370/.502)

*Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that Howard could return in late May or early June. He tore his left Achilles against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, and his recovery has not gone perfectly.

**ESPN's Buster Olney has reported that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has said that Utley is "doubtful" for Opening Day with nagging knee injuries. 


Bullpen

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (R) (4-1, 31 SV, 3 BLSV, 2.94 ERA, 0.93 WHIP)

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Antonio Bastardo

Antonio Bastardo (L) (6-1, 8 SV, 17 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.64, 0.93)

Jose Contreras (R) (0-0, 5 SV, 4 HLD, 3.86, 1.36)

Chad Qualls (R) (6-8, 22 HLD, 5 BLSV, 3.51, 1.25)

Kyle Kendrick (R) (8-6, 3.22, 1.22)

Michael Stutes (R) (6-2, 13 HLD, 3.63, 1.24)

David Herndon (R) (1-4, 1 SV, 4 HLD, 1 BLSV, 3.32, 1.37)


Scouting the Starting Pitching

Philadelphia's starting rotation did not live up to the hype in 2011. 

It surpassed it.

The numbers speak for themselves. Phillies starters logged 1,064.2 innings, pitched 18 complete games, threw seven shutouts and had 108 quality starts. They had a 2.86 ERA, a 7.88 K/9, a 1.87 BB/9 and a 1.11 WHIP.

All of those numbers were tops in the majors. Which, for the record, is remarkable.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Roy Halladay

Roy Halladay led the way, winning a team-high 19 games and pitching a team-high 233.2 innings. He pitched eight of the team's 18 complete games, and he pitched fewer than seven innings just seven times. 

I'm going to break down Halladay's dominance in further detail in just a minute, but I'll just say for now that he is everything his reputation suggests. He's an ace in every sense of the word, and the simple truth is that no active pitcher in the majors has mastered the art of pitching quite like he has.

Though, Cliff Lee is no slouch. His first season back in Philadelphia was a roaring success. He won 17 games while pitching a career-high 232.2 innings with six complete games, all of which were shutouts.

What was interesting about Lee's performance in 2011 was how he morphed into much more of a strikeout pitcher. He struck out a career-high 238 batters, which is amazing considering his previous career-high was 185 punchouts. His K/9 for the season was 9.21, which was coupled with a BB/9 of 1.62. His K/BB of 5.67 was the third-highest mark in the majors.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Cliff Lee

In addition, Lee's ground-ball rate jumped up to 46.3 percent, which helped keep his opponents' average at .229 and his opponents' slugging percentage at .339. 

In short, it was very, very difficult for hitters to hit Lee. If you needed numbers to realize that, well, there you go.

Halladay and Lee got the bulk of the attention, and deservedly so, but Cole Hamels had a fairly amazing season last year too. Opponents hit just .214 off him, the lowest such mark of Philly's three aces. That's a big reason he was able to manage a 0.99 WHIP, which ranked third in the majors.

Unlike Lee, Hamels actually struck out fewer hitters in 2011 than he had in the past. He had a K/9 over 9.00 in 2010, but it fell to 8.08 in 2011. He balanced things out by posting a career-low BB/9 of 1.83, and he induced more ground balls than he ever had before.

So I'd say Hamels took a few steps forward as a pitcher in 2011, and I think it's fair to chalk that up to his being part of a friendly competition with two of the best pitchers in the game. Hamels didn't want to be the ugly duckling of the group, so he upped his game.

Whatever his motivation was, the Phillies will gladly take a repeat performance. Goodness knows Hamels has been a little inconsistent in recent seasons.

Vance Worley turned out to be a pleasant surprise after he became a part of the rotation, but he's going to have adjustments to make in his first full season in Philly's rotation. He pitched really well right out of the gate, but hitters started getting to him in the second half of the season. It all culminated in a month of September in which hitters hit .288 with four homers off Worley.

Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Vance Worley

Worley can help himself by decreasing his walks, as his BB/9 in 2011 was over 3.00. In addition, his curiously high 23.5 line-drive rate should have translated to a higher BABIP than .283. Don't be surprised if Worley gives up a few more hits in 2012, leading to some regression.

But not too much regression. Worley benefited from some luck last season, but not an extreme amount. His FIP of 3.32 wasn't much higher than his 3.01 ERA. 

Joe Blanton is penciled into the No. 5 spot in this rotation, and he's a guy who suffered from really bad luck in what starts he did make. Despite a K/9 of 7.62 and a ground-ball rate of 55 percent, Blanton had a .362 BABIP. It's not a surprise his FIP was 3.63, way more than a run lower than his actual ERA.

Even still, Kyle Kendrick looks to be the better option for the No. 5 spot. He's looked very good in spring training, and he's coming off a season in which he had a 3.14 ERA as a starter.

Regardless of what happens with the No. 5 spot, this rotation is as solid as a rock. It was the best in the majors in 2011, and it's a good bet that it will be the best rotation in the majors in 2012 too.

But of course, you already knew that.


Scouting the Bullpen

Philly's bullpen was pretty good in 2011. Not great, but pretty good.

All told, Phillies relievers had a 3.45 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP, figures that ranked in the middle of the road in the National League. The biggest problem Phillies relievers had was walks, as the bullpen had a BB/9 of 3.99.

It wasn't all bad, though. Phillies relievers were only called on to pitch 412.1 innings, fewest in the National League. With the starters going so deep into games, the guys in the pen didn't have to do all that much.

Things will be much the same in 2012, with the key difference being who will be closing games out in the ninth. Ryan Madson is out, and Jonathan Papelbon is in.

The Phillies are paying Papelbon way too much money, but he'll be just fine closing games out as long as he repeats his performance for 2011. After struggling mightily with his control for two seasons, Pap lowered his BB/9 to 1.40, much closer to where he was in 2007 and 2008. He also upped his K/9 to 12.17.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images
Jonathan Papelbon

Most importantly, Pap gave up just three home runs all season, posting an outstanding 4.8 HR/FB percentage. Home runs had been a problem for Pap, but he was very hard to take deep last season.

The bridge to Papelbon could be stronger, but the Phillies could ask for a much worse eighth inning guy than Antonio Bastardo. He had a very rough month of September last season, but beyond that he was very good, posting a 10.86 K/9 and an opponents' batting average of .144. It's hard to imagine him being that unhittable again, but he's going to be just as dominant if he manages to get his BB/9 lower than 4.00.

The rest of this bullpen is made up of veterans and young arms, the lot of whom will spend the first couple of months jockeying for position. Because it's a relatively unspectacular collection of arms, you have to worry about how the Phillies will fare when games turn into bullpen battles.

But let's be real. As long as the Phillies' rotation stays intact, they're not going to have to worry about that. As long as they have quality arms to take care of the late innings -- and they do -- they'll be fine.


Scouting the Hitting

The Phillies' offensive woes in 2011 were blown way out of proportion, but there was no mistaking the fact that the Phillies were far from the offensive powerhouse that they used to be. They scored just 713 runs, seventh in the National League. They hit .253, slugged .395 and finished eighth in the National League with 153 home runs.

Get ready for things to be even worse in 2012. 

The key issue with this Phillies lineup is health. I noted above that Ryan Howard is going to miss the first couple months of the season, and now it sounds like Chase Utley is going to be too wounded to play right out of the gate.

Just a couple seasons ago, these two guys were studs the Phillies could count on to drive in tons of runs. Now they're both injury risks who aren't going to come close to providing the kind of production they used to.

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Jimmy Rollins

In addition, it must be kept in mind that Jimmy Rollins is not as young or as sturdy as he once was, and even Shane Victorino had to spend some time on the disabled list in 2011.

With Howard out for the foreseeable future and Utley ailing, it is absolutely imperative that Rollins and Victorino stay healthy, as the two of them can save Philly's offense a lot of trouble by being productive at the top of the lineup.

All bets are off with Rollins. He just hasn't been himself since his MVP season in 2007, as his batting averages have hovered well south of the .300 mark, and his on-base and slugging percentages have been lacking.

On the bright side, Rollins is still a threat to hit upwards of 15 home runs if he manages to stay healthy, and he'll steal 30-plus bases too. Rollins can do himself a huge favor by taking more walks. That's never been his specialty, but at this stage of his career he needs to realize that he's just not capable of doing what he used to be able to with a bat in his hands.

Things are less concerning as they pertain to Victorino. He's still relatively young, and his recent track record shows that he'll be good for a batting average in the high .200s, an OBP in the mid .300s and roughly 15-20 home runs if he stays healthy.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Shane Victorino

In fact, Victorino could be even better than that. Let's not forget that he was hitting .303/.376/.524 before the All-Star break last year. He managed to have an outstanding month of August, but his season took a turn for the worse in September.

At least Hunter Pence managed to stay consistent after the Phillies acquired him, hitting .324/.394/.560 after the team got him at the trade deadline. He was money in August, batting .340 with seven home runs.

Pence will likely slide into the cleanup spot with Howard out of the picture, meaning he'll have to keep rolling along once the season starts. I'll have more on his role with this club in just a minute.

Beyond the big names, one guy to keep an eye on in this lineup is John Mayberry, Jr. He hasn't had a good spring, but the Phillies know as well as anyone that Mayberry gave the team a big lift in the final two months of the 2011 season, hitting .296 with six homers in August and .305 in September. If he comes anywhere close to that production in 2012, the Phillies will have some oomph in the lower half of their lineup.

And that would be a good thing, of course, because the lower half of their lineup doesn't seem to have much oomph when you look at it on paper. Placido Polanco is a singles hitter, Ty Wigginton has hit below .250 each of the last two years, Carlos Ruiz's value is in his defense and game-calling abilities and Domonic Brown has gone from being a blue-chip prospect to being a snakebit mess.

If all goes well, the guys who are healthy now will stay healthy long enough to hold the fort until Utley and Howard are able to return. If all keeps going well, the two of them are going to go back to hitting like they used to.

But that's not going to happen. It's a 162-game season, and there's more than enough evidence to suggest that what can go wrong in baseball will go wrong.

Indeed, Murphy's Law has already taken hold of this lineup. I take that as a sign that it's going to be a long season for Philly's bats. 


Pitching Stud

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Did I mention that Roy Halladay was good in 2011? I think I did, but I probably haven't mentioned that he was better in 2011 than he was in 2010, when he won 21 games and captured the National League Cy Young.

Halladay missed a few more bats in 2011, upping his K/9 from 7.86 to 8.47 and ultimately finishing with a career-high 220 strikeouts. He did this while keeping his BB/9 at 1.35, tops in the National League among qualified starters.

Additionally, Halladay kept the ball in the yard much better than he did in 2010, when his HR/FB rate was 11.3 percent and he ended up surrendering 24 dingers. In 2011, Halladay's HR/FB rate was 5.1 percent, and he surrendered just 10 dingers all season long.

In the end, Halladay had allowed an opponents' batting average of just .239 and an opponents' slugging percentage of .313. That second number tied him with Justin Verlander for the second-lowest opponents' slugging percentage in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw (.298).

Looking back even further, Halladay leads all starters with an ERA of 2.80 since 2007, and he also leads all starters with 42 complete games since 2007. The next-closest guy on the list is Cliff Lee, and he has 24.

So like I said, Halladay is a true ace. When he's on the mound, the Phillies won't have to worry about a thing.


Hitting Stud

Rob Carr/Getty Images

A couple years ago, it would have been very difficult to choose a Phillie for this particular honor. But these days, the only guy who can go here is Hunter Pence.

Pence has always been a good hitter, but he was a different animal altogether last season. His .314 batting average was a personal best for a season in which he logged more than 500 at-bats, and the same is true of his on-base percentage and his .502 slugging percentage.

When we see spikes like this, it's typically because the hitter in question got smarter and started being more selective at the plate. This wasn't the case with Pence, as he had a walk rate of just 8.4 percent, and he actually struck out more often in 2011 than he had in 2010 or 2009.

When Pence made contact, though, good things happened. He had a BABIP of .361, which put him in the same company as Miguel Cabrera. This was due primarily to Pence's 17.9 line-drive percentage, a mark that's better than average.

Pence took to Citizens Bank Park quite well, hitting .341 in Philly's home park. You could see that coming because Pence has always been good at finding the gaps, and Citizens Bank Park is pretty inviting for hitters like that.

When the Phillies acquired Pence last season, they needed him to be an important cog in their lineup. This season, they're going to need him to be even more important. The Phillies have no idea what they're going to get out of Utley or Howard, so they need to know what they're going to get out of Pence.

And make no mistake, they're going to need a lot of out of him.


X-Factor

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Fair warning: I am indeed about to make a case for Ryan Howard as Philly's X-factor.

Howard used to be good for upwards of 45 home runs and a slugging percentage in the high .500s, not to mention roughly 140 RBI in a given season. In the last two seasons, Howard has been more of a 30-homer guy, one who simply doesn't strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.

There's no specific reason for it. Howard has been striking out a lot, but that was the case with him even as far back as his MVP season in 2006. He's not unlike Adam Dunn in that his big strike zone makes things difficult for him. He's always taken his walks, but he's always had a tendency to swing and miss too.

The problem Howard has faced over the last two seasons is that he just hasn't been hitting the ball with authority. His ISO (isolated power) used to hover near or above .300, which is outstanding. In 2010, Howard's ISO was .229. In 2010, it was .235. That's not great. That's merely above average.

Not surprisingly, Howard's loss of raw power has led to a decline in home runs. No doubt you've already noticed that.

If you want to look on the bright side, maybe the rest Howard is getting at present is for the best. Maybe some time to recharge his batteries is exactly what he needs.

The Phillies are hoping so. When Howard returns, they need him to mash. If he does, they stand to win a lot of games. If he doesn't, they stand to keep sputtering along offensively, leaving a lot of games left un-won.


Prospect to Watch

Photo Credit: MILB.com

The Phillies have been busy bees making trades in recent seasons, so it's not exactly a surprise that the upper levels of their farm system are totally devoid of standout players.

One guy who stands out in their system, however, is Trevor May, who the Phillies drafted in the fourth round back in 2008. He's only made it as far as Single-A since then, but he's starting to generate some positive buzz.

ESPN's Keith Law has May ranked as the No. 76 prospect in baseball this year, up from his ranking of 93 in 2011. The only thing Law doesn't like is that May's curve and change both need work. Right now, he's getting by primarily on his fastball, a tendency that will only get a young pitcher so far.

Still, May is only 22, so he has a lot of time left to improve. A few years from now, he'll be knocking on the door of a rotation that will feature a couple pitchers who will be a little long in the tooth.


What the Phillies Will Do Well

You don't need me to tell you that the Phillies are going to pitch well, but I will anyway.

The top three pitchers in Philly's rotation combine to form a trio that no team in baseball can beat. Halladay, Lee and Hamels are all threats to pitch well over 200 innings, and when all is said and done all three of them will likely have ERAs under 3.00. 

The back end of Philly's rotation doesn't hold a candle to the front end, but there are much worse back ends out there, regardless of who ends up earning the No. 5 spot.

Philly's bullpen is not elite, but it doesn't need to be with its rotation. The starters will take a lot of pressure off the relievers, and that will make life easier for everyone.


What the Phillies Won’t Do Well

The Phillies are going to be worse offensively in 2012 than they were in 2011. You can take that to the bank.

The injury to Howard was a huge enough blow, and Utley's own injury woes don't bode well. You never want to hear the words "nagging" (or "chronic") and "knees" in the same sentence.

The Phillies have solid depth, but making up the difference won't be easy. They're going to struggle to score runs as long as Utley and Howard are out, and things won't be overly shiny when those two are both in the lineup the rest of the way.

Also, the Phillies will likely be a below-average fielding team. They were last year, and they didn't go out of their way to upgrade their team defense over the offseason. 


Final Thoughts

Where will the Phillies finish in the NL East in 2012?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Despite my gripes about Philly's bats, this is still a very good team we're talking about. The Phillies' starting pitching will make sure the team stays slump-proof, and that will lead to a lot of wins.

But the Phillies aren't winning 100 games again. Their lack of offensive firepower is going to cost them, and it simply cannot be taken for granted that their starting pitching is going to be as dominant as it was last season. A regression is in the cards.

The Phillies won't win few than 90, though. In the end, I don't think they'll have any trouble making the playoffs.


Projected Record: 92-70, second in NL East, wild card berth.

 

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Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:

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